While many popular regions around Australia have felt the impact of an intense fire season, they’re ready to welcome back visitors after bushfire recovery.
“We just really hope people will come and stay,” says Carly Bussenschutt of Stowaway Kangaroo Island. “The views are still here, the wildlife is still here, the beaches are still here.”
Australia might be recovering from one of its worst-ever bushfire seasons, but the resounding message from regions all over the country is “We’re open for business!” While the instinct for people with holidays booked to regional Australian towns, or even people thinking of a getaway, might be to hold off to let them recover, the reality is quite the opposite.
“Tourism and visitation play such a vital role in these regions,” explains Rodney Harrex, CEO of the South Australian Tourism Commission. “It’s now more important than ever that people travel… to engage with the local producers, growers and tourism operators to support them and help them recover.”
The story is the same all over the country, from the Adelaide Hills and Kangaroo Island in South Australia to Victoria’s High Country to NSW’s Blue Mountains, Sapphire Coast and Southern Highlands. They’re all calling visitors to them to experience the incredible bounty of produce, views, accommodation and activities – with that heart and personality you can expect from regional Australia.
Southern Highlands, NSW
“We are safe and we’re open for business,” says Steve Rosa of Destination Southern Highlands. “We want to share the love with all of those potential visitors to the region as well as our local residents here.”
All towns in the Southern Highlands are welcoming visitors as normal, including the popular spots of Bowral and Berrima. This means visitors can still tour the local wine region, including in a jeep or on an eBike; check out Bowral’s International Cricket Hall of Fame; go boutique shopping in Mittagong; dine at acclaimed restaurants Biota and Eschalot, or hit the Southern Highlands Pie Trail.
The Southern Highlands is also offering a range of travel deals to entice both visitors and residents to enjoy local attractions. You can find them listed on the organisation’s website.
Sapphire Coast, NSW
“Our beaches are pristine, most of our towns and villages are open and our locals are ready with a smile,” says Sapphire Coast tourism officer Amanda Heather. “Much of what’s spectacular about the Sapphire Coast was untouched by the fires.”
And it’s certainly possible to have an incredible holiday in the region, just as normal. Getting away to the Sapphire Coast will be as rejuvenating for you as it is for the region – its attractions, its businesses and its rebuilding efforts.
“Get back to nature,” says Amanda. “Make your way back to our iconic towns, go surfing, fish from the wharves, settle in on the beaches or tackle some of the adventure experiences we’re famous for.”
The region has won award after award for its oysters and dairy, and is a true food bowl, home to passionate growers, brewers, farmers and chefs. In addition, there are a range of wonderful festivals coming up, including EAT Merimbula (March 8), Sculpture Bermagui (March 6–15) and Four Winds Easter Festival (April 8–12).
What better reason to get back to the Sapphire Coast than celebrations like these?
High Country, Vic
The official word from the region’s tourism industry is: “The High Country and all its communities and businesses are very much open for business and welcoming visitors with open arms!”
That means you can explore, walk, bike ride, eat, drink and discover the High Country just as usual. The towns of Bright, Mansfield, Rutherglen and Wangaratta are all welcoming visitors.
This is one of Australia’s premier regions for cycling, including the mountain, road and even rail varieties – the inclines and descents of the trails make for a scenic way to explore. If you lean more towards culinary holidays, the High Country has you covered, with some of Australia’s best winery restaurants matched with stellar countryside views.
Adelaide Hills, SA
“Most of the cellar doors that have been impacted are actually open for business already,” says Lucy Golding of Golding Wines in the Adelaide Hills region. It’s true many operations here saw some impact from bushfires this season, in particular the Cudlee Creek fire in late December, but most of the tourism infrastructure was untouched. Many who were directly affected are quickly bouncing back.
Alistair Turnbull of Lobethal Bierhaus microbrewery agrees, saying travellers really support the recovery effort when they “purchase something from a local producer. You’re supporting local.”
The hospitality industry here wants you to know the roads are open, the power is on, the wine is chilled and the charming main streets are unscathed.
Of course, the Adelaide Hills is best known for its wine and produce – a great excuse for a holiday. Especially when you can visit wineries like Barristers Block in Woodside and Anderson Hill in Lenswood, or Melba’s Chocolate and Confectionery, Woodside Cheese Wrights and the Udder Delights Cheese Cellar. Help the bushfire recovery effort and enjoy good food and wine.
Kangaroo Island, SA
Kangaroo Island made headlines for the intensity of the bushfires that burned across the landscape.
“The best way to support us as a community is to come here, enjoy it,” says Yael Clements of Ecopia Retreat. “Taste the wine, taste the honey. If you’re not able to come right now, book for a bit later on.”
While about 48 per cent of Kangaroo Island was touched by the bushfires, that still leaves an area three times the size of Singapore to explore, and those attractions not affected by the fires are operating as normal, ready to welcome you with their KI hospitality.
The region is especially well known for adventure activities and amazing food, all within easy reach.
“Walk among Australian seal lions at Seal Bay, go sandboarding at Little Sahara with Kangaroo Island Outdoor Action,” says Kylie Bamfield, a representative of KI’s tourism, food and wine operators. “Visit Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park in Parndana and support a local town significantly impacted by the fires. There is still much to see and do, including pristine beaches, wildlife, wineries, breweries, great places to eat, fishing or swimming with dolphins.”
Blue Mountains, NSW
Dramatic images of columns of smoke over the Blue Mountains made headlines during the bushfire season but, thankfully, the region is intact and welcoming visitors as normal. That includes all attractions, including businesses and walking tracks in the beautiful areas of Wentworth Falls and Katoomba.
“Many people come for the day to see the Three Sisters at Echo Point, then go to Scenic World for the cable car and world’s steepest railway rides,” says Michael Sperling of Blue Mountains Accommodation and Tourism Association.
“There’s a hop-on hop-off bus that links up all the must-see sights around Leura and Katoomba. An overnight stay allows people to sample amazing food, wines and craft beers produced right here in the Blue Mountains region.
“Plus there’s a great array of lovely old-world guesthouses, hotels and B&Bs, and the walks, gardens, bushland, cool climate and fully refurbished grand hotels are what the Blue Mountains is famous for. All of these things are available now.”
In the know
Always do your research when visiting any region. Australia’s bushfire seasons are becoming longer and less predictable, so it pays to keep up to date. You can check Tourism Australia’s travel alerts for bushfire notices countrywide, or this story’s listed links for specific regions and more focused information.
Lead image: © Visit Victoria, Emily Godfrey